Who wears short shorts?

old bmx ramp in Naperville

One of the lynchpins of the BMX vs. Skateboards in skateparks arguments is that BMXers are always leeching of of skateboarders efforts. Well, that’s not always true. The first half pipe I ever saw, rode, or photographed was built by BMX kids in the woods of suburban Naperville Illinois, some time around 1984-85. The skaters (all three of us) were definitely riding the coat tails of the BMX guys. More pics, bad fashion and words after the jump.

My friend Jay Niedzwiecki told me one day he had heard about a ramp some BMX guys had built in the woods on the outskirts of Naperville. At the time, it actually was near the outskirts. Naperville used to have a lot of undeveloped land, empty fields and farmland. The location was awesome, a stand of trees out in the middle of a field surrounding a horseshoe shaped earthen mound that was about four or five feet high. In the center of this natural fortress was the ramp. This ramp was actually two different half pipes built at different times. It looked like someone was trying to connect them as an afterthought. The earth walls and trees made it impossible to see anything from the road and cut down on sound.

Check out my awesome shorts and crappy rector knee pads. When we first started I had no pads and soon started trashing my knees. Running out hadn’t been invented yet! Tired of raw flesh, I slipped on some nearly useless soft volleyball knee pads, which quickly disintegrated. Later, I made the hour long drive to the nearest skate shop, which was actually a tiny roller skating shop in a strip mall with an even tinier skateboard selection that usually consisted of 3 boards maximum and a smattering of parts. Click the pictures to enlarge.

old bmx ramp in Naperville Illinois

Check out the steps dug out of the earthen wall in the picture below. I like writing earthen wall. Send in the Hobbits. That’s a giant Naked Raygun logo we spray painted. There were a handful of BMX kids that we would see on occasion. Most of them just hung out. I don’t think I ever saw anyone actually riding the ramp. Most of kids that hung out there didn’t even bring their bikes. They were always heckling us for being “punks” so we thought we should cover the ramps with our favorite band logos to annoy them. I’m riding a white Powell Vato Rat here.

I really got into riding this ramp. Often times I would get up and go skate at 6:00 am for an hour and a half before I had to be at work. We brought a few other “skaters” to the ramp, but at that time in Naperville, the few people with skateboards mostly used them as a fashion accessory. A skateboard was a punctuation mark on the statement that went something like this: “Hey, I’m unpopular and I don’t like Journey, Styx, Rush, or the school football team!” Only a couple of us seemed to really like skateboarding for the sake of skateboarding. The local delinquents hassled us but didn’t seem to care too much because they weren’t really riding it anyway. It became ours by default. We named it after the previous inhabitants favorite greeting for us, and thus it became the “Punk Sucks Ramp.”

old bmx ramp in Naperville Illinois

That’s my friend Dave Smith’s name painted on the ramp (below). He came out to it a couple of times, I tried to get him stoked, but he was leaning towards the stoner route and we kind of went separate ways. I always thought it amusing that he took pride in painting his name on the ramp when it was so generic. One time we got into trouble for something and whatever authority it was wanted our names. The guy refused to believe that Dave hadn’t made up a fake one on the spot. “Yeah, I’m uh, Dave… Smith. Yeah, Smith.” Dave eventually went off the stoner deep end, or at least circumstances convinced him that he did. He went to some sort of forced rehab before getting his shit together and graduating from an expensive private college and becoming a lawyer or something. This is not the other Dave Smith from the Chicago suburbs who was sponsored by Thunder and SMA in the 80’s, and who still owes me $40 for a deck or some trucks he was supposed to deliver.

old bmx ramp in Naperville Illinois

This ramp was crappy but fun. The transitions looked like they were drawn by hand, and they didn’t match up. There were a few kinks, and the wood was weathered and falling apart. After a while it was just myself and Jay who were riding it. When the best (and only) people at the ramp are beginners, the progression isn’t exactly speedy. We fakied the hell out of that thing though. I even brought my dad out once so he could understand what I was talking about. He thought it was interesting but he then proceeded to lecture me about ruining my knees and regretting this activity when as I aged. Now that I am “aged,” my only regret is that I didn’t start sooner or document it more. Jay and I took it upon ourselves to improve the ramp. One night we got busted unloading plywood from the midnight lumber yard. The cop was actually cool about it, considering the sheets we had snagged on this run were finish-grade flooring that was 3/4 thick, somewhere around $20+ a sheet at the time. He told us to bring it back to the site and knock it off. Dodged a bullet there.

old bmx ramp in Naperville Illinois

So this is my friend Jay Niedzwiecki. He was my best friend at the time. He would always find the crucial punk records and loan them to me. In fact, he later gave me his copy of Naked Raygun’s Basement Screams. Owning a vinyl copy was rare since they were Chicago’s punk rock heroes and the limited pressing sold out. Most people just had a dubbed tape, but everyone seemed to have it. Jay had a brilliant sense of humor and too many brothers and sisters. His father had an office cleaning business that he ran out of an apartment he rented that was converted to an office. The upstairs still had bedrooms, and there was kitchen and everything. Since it was just like an apartment we thought we should have a party. Somehow we got beer and a hundred kids showed up and we drank and skanked in the kitchen to music on Jay’s turntable. At one point there was a fire extinguisher battle that left a heavy chemical residue on that copy of Basement Screams, traces of which remain to this day. The night ended with me laying down in the middle of the street and a couple of cop cars converging from opposite directions, screeching to a halt. They told me to go home. Dodged another bullet that time.

One time Jay and I were skating down a road a couple miles to check out some banks behind a grocery store. A GMC Suburban full of burnouts from the BMX ramp pulled over and five or six guys got out started to chase us because they thought we had ratted out one of their friends to the cops for having beer in a garbage sack. That was the only other time I saw cops at the ramp, which was clearly illegally squatting. The asked us about the kid in question and I tried to spread some disinformation to help the kid out but apparently his crew thought I was a narc. Anyway, these guys chased us into some suburban back yard and surrounded us. Jay and I had our boards raised in defense mode, prompting our assailants to arm themselves from a nearby stack of 2×4’s. which was ridiculous because they were to heavy to wield in close quarters. We taunted each other for a while until the porch lights came on and somebody’s dad came out and yelled at us to beat it. It was pretty lame.

The same crew of delinquents ended up tying a rope to the trailer hitch of their Suburban and tearing to pieces as payback for our supposed indiscretion with their friend and the cops. While we were dismayed that the ramp was totaled, we were confused and then amused by the fact that they had torn down their own ramp to retaliate against us. Cutting of their noses to spite their face! We considered rebuilding it ourselves but we figured they would just tear it down again, and our bust at the midnight lumber yard was still fresh in our minds. There were also rumors of impending construction on the site which soon enough were made clear by the arrival of tractors. In the end we chalked it up to an amazing run of good fortune on a found ramp that was essentially deserted by it’s creators. So, no sweat off our backs. Time for college anyway.

Later on there was another ramp we used to occasionally ride in a different suburb, Darien Illinois, if I recall correctly. It was in another field behind a Taco Bell. It was right out in the open and we never, ever, saw anyone riding it. In fact, last year I met a guy named Tom Kilroy in Idaho of all places, who was one of the locals from that ramp. Funny that I never met him when we both lived in Illinois. We were even at the same 1985 Faction show in a kids garage in Downer’s Grove illinois. What are the odds?

So Jay is not alive anymore. The picture of him above is actually the first skate photo that I ever took. I think of him whenever I hear the Dead Kennedys’ Holiday in Cambodia, and of course the Basement Screams record. I have a vivid memory of Jay pulling Plastic Surgery Disasters out his locker in high school, both of us staring at the cover shot of the starving African child’s tiny emaciated hand resting on a fat white one. I remember the new wave girls we used to chase and the jocks that used to chase us. Jay rigged the windshield wiper fluid dispenser on his 70’s era tin-can sized Honda Civic to spray sideways at people when we were standing in traffic. Stupid, yes, but we had fun with it. We drove a couple cars into the ground actually. Thanks for finding that ramp Jay. Wish you were still here.

Oh yeah, I used to call him Jay Needswhiskey. High school humor.


  1. Great story you sap, no seriously…Jocko Weiland eat your heart out. Similar events in downstate Peoria, IL in ’84-’85 prompted the release of my ‘zine BMX DEATH (in dogtown font). Last year on the deck of a ramp back home I actually ran into one of the burnouts that prompted that ‘zines release and he STILL said something lame about skateboards!

  2. houseofneil on March 9, 2007 - Reply

    Nice story Randy. Even though I only met him a few times, he was a great guy. A lot of fun. It’s a real shame he didn’t come down to UofI with you. Things might have turned out differently. BTW, is that your pink Brand X he’s riding in that picture?

    Let me write up one of my 1982/1983 stories. It’s probably pretty similar, just in a different country. Biggest similarity? Short shorts and crappy kneepads. Let me find the pictures.

  3. houseofneil on March 9, 2007 - Reply

    BTW, what exactly are you doing in that 3rd pic? It looks like some kind of slide, but I assume it isn’t. Or a kickturn off the nose. Not that there was a nose on that pig.

  4. That’s just a late snap of a regular (but goofy) backside kickturn. That might be Jay’s board actually, I don’t know if that ramp lasted long enough for me to go through two boards. Maybe.

  5. Damnit where is the photo of the ramp to ramp transfer? What’s wrong with you midwest guys?

  6. Let’s talk about the quote from the Nair commercial… wasn’t it a nair commercial.. and ended with YOU wear short shorts…?
    Come on Randy… hook me up.

  7. It was an actual song that was adapted to the Nair commercial by adding If you dare wear short-shorts, Nair for short-shorts.

  8. Colin: You are correct sir. Hence the title of this post. The only thing I could find was a very short version that doesn’t have the whole song.

    Conahan: We were still mastering kickturns! Tony Alva hadn’t been by to invent frontside airs yet, let alone transfers.

  9. nweyesk8 on March 14, 2007 - Reply

    wow those ramps remind me of the first few ramps i built as a kid growing up in mississippi. 4ft wide and 4ft tall with hand drawn transitions going right to vert. built from the wooden scrap remains, from when they paved the roads near my house, and confiscated political signs.

  10. icewater on March 25, 2007 - Reply

    what happened to Jay?

  11. Jay was hit by a train, I think.

  12. houseofneil

    Can you provide more details on the “dogtown” font? Actual font set or done by hand?

  13. […] at birth: This photo of my old friend Jay taken circa ‘85 in suburban Illinois, and this photo of Mike Blake at […]

  14. CHECK OUT http://www.myspace.com/rustedbones to see our old-skool skaterz club!

  15. blahnonymous on May 22, 2008 - Reply

    Wow that’s an absolutely tragic way to lose someone

    I’m sorry for your loss

  16. Dave D on April 22, 2009 - Reply

    Jay’s sister Beth just hit me up on Facebook…lot’s of memories…where the hell was I when you went out to this ramp? I would’ve been up fer it.

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